The shooting down of a civilian airliner by a reactionary, pro-Russian group of Ukrainians last week is nothing short of chilling because history demonstrates that acts of violence on the part of an unhappy faction can lead fairly directly to much larger conflicts.
We are just now 100 years from the start of the First World War and the parallel act of assassination by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo of a representative of the colonial power in that region at that time, the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Parallel, in that the ground-to-air missile that downed the Malaysia Airlines plane, resulting in the death of more than 200 passengers and crew members, was fired by Ukrainians who are unhappy with their new president’s efforts to have closer ties to the European community rather than with Russia and it is widely presumed that the sophisticated firepower required to hit a high-flying jetliner would have been acquired from the Russian military forces.
In the aftermath of the incident, initially the rebel group (which has never denied responsibility for the terrorist act) claimed it had recovered the aircraft’s “black boxes” (which would detail the last events of the plane in flight, including pilots’ remarks) and would turn them over to the Russian government.
While Russian President Vladmiri Putin was quick to blame the newly elected, pro-West Ukrainian government and its president for the act (for reasons known only to himself) he did prudently decline to accept the black boxes, instead suggesting that this evidence should be made available to international civil aviation investigators.
The rebel group, which has been collecting the dead bodies of the aircraft’s passengers and crew and storing them in refrigerated railway cars, had also initially stated it would send this grisly evidence to Russia but as of Monday of this week, the remains of the victims were still awaiting a destination.
Had Mr. Putin agreed to accept the black boxes and thus be seen as possibly interfering with the investigation of the terrorist act, this would have significantly heightened tensions. But he didn’t no doubt sensing that he had already strained the limits of the international community’s goodwill with his annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in the late winter.
But nevertheless the idea of a renegade organization having the wherewithal to bring down a passenger aircraft because it had determined that the plane somehow invaded “their” air space is enormously disturbing.
There was at least one Canadian aboard, that individual en route to what he imagined was a happy holiday in Bali, just to put this event in perspective.
So what should be the response of the international community to this act of terror and how will this response square with the fact that these particular terrorists are Russian allies in the squabble over the future of Ukraine?
If, for example, United Nations or NATO peacekeeping forces arrived in Ukraine to help that government deal with their terrorist element, Russia would almost assuredly interpret this as an act of aggression against their country and the results could be catastrophic.
What would be the right response, in light of this terrible action directed against civilians (the rebel group may have thought the targeted aircraft was a military one but, if they did, this is another example of their epic lack of judgment) would be for Russia to align itself with the West, and with Ukraine, and help to root out paramilitary organization that would consider such aggression appropriate.
This isn’t likely to happen and the western world will continue to chastise the Ukrainian rebel group, (and Russia for doing nothing) but not much more.
This is a cynical prediction but with the memories of the Cold War still fresh in most adults’ minds, no important nation is likely to poke the beast.